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MacBook Retina Rising – is Apple’s new MacBook Pro the Best Laptop Ever?

MacBook Pro Twin Thunderbolt
Thunderbolt is a connector first introduced by Intel in 2009. It’s currently the mother of all interconnects, offering 20Gb/s compared to ‘only’ 4.8Gb/s for USB 3.0. However, general industry uptake has been on the slow side, with only Apple’s laptop range, the Sony VAIO Z, and the Acer S5 incorporating it on the laptop side of things. While consequently the list of peripherals that work with the interconnect is still a bit limited, this doesn’t take away from its potential – and it’s fully compatible with miniDisplayPort (an alternative video connection standard to HDMI) too.

With its latest MacBook Pro refresh, Apple has not only updated all the previous model’s USB 2.0 ports to USB 3.0, but also added a second Thunderbolt port to the one found on its predecessor. That makes the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina Display the best-connected laptop in the world. Ever. Despite its lack of Ethernet without an adapter.

Three USB 3.0 ports aside, the Retina MacBook has no fewer than three digital video outputs – counting its HDMI output and twin miniDisplayPorts/Thunderbolt ports, the latter of which are compatible with HDMI, DVI and even VGA by using active adapters. Now you can finally plug in more than one Thunderbolt device without needing to daisy chain either, handy in all kinds of situations – for example when copying content from one external storage drive to another, or when connected to a DisplayPort monitor and Thunderbolt hard drive.

This will become even more important when we move beyond relatively simplistic uses like storage or even (blasphemy, I know), video output. As the rather special Sony VAIO Z already demonstrated with its unique external dock sporting extra USB 3.0 ports, a Blu-ray writer, and dedicated external graphics, Thunderbolt has bandwidth to spare for some pretty intensive use.

The latter in that list is where things get really interesting, as graphics has traditionally been the weakest area of any laptop – even the 2012 MacBook Pro’s Nvidia GeForce GT 650M won’t let you game at the screen’s native resolution in demanding titles. But imagine hooking up a desktop GTX 680…
MacBook Pro Retina VS Windows laptop
Retina MacBook Pro VS Windows Laptop
For all this, it’s important to remember that the 2012 MacBook Pro is still ‘just’ a laptop – and with a starting price of £1,800, a very expensive one at that. Much as we love its specifications, build quality and usability, aside from the screen these can all be matched already – or will soon be – by competing Windows laptop models, as the Samsung Series 7 Chronos 700Z5A proved conclusively when compared to the previous Apple Pro contender.

We’re also starting to see ever more ‘large’ Ultrabooks, like the Acer Aspire Timeline U M3 581T, and some of them should be pretty spiffing. Even non-Ultrabook laptops like the Sony VAIO S 15 – with its 1080p IPS screen, minimalist metal chassis, backlit keyboard, dedicated graphics and slot-loading Blu-ray drive – already makes for a compelling alternative.

One of the Retina MacBook Pro’s strongest virtues is perhaps what it will inspire in the competition, but for now it’s definitely the overall best (relatively portable) laptop money can buy.

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